In a letter appearing in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Robert Sharpe, a policy analyst for Common Sense for Drug Policy, writes:
The U.S. could learn from Mexico’s decriminalization of drugs.
The U.S. drug war is largely a war on marijuana smokers. There were 872,720 total marijuana arrests in 2007, almost 90% for simple possession. At a time when state and local governments are laying off police, firefighters and teachers, this country continues to spend scarce public resources criminalizing Americans who prefer marijuana to martinis.
The end result of this ongoing culture war is not necessarily lower rates of use. The U.S. has higher rates of marijuana use than the Netherlands, where marijuana is legally available. An admitted former pot smoker, President Obama has thus far maintained the status quo rather than pursue change. Would Barack Obama be in the White House if he had been convicted of a marijuana offense as a youth? Decriminalization is a long overdue step in the right direction.
Don Boudreaux poses a different question, “one that exposes the huge disconnect between most people’s live-and-let-live attitudes about drug use (or at least about the use of pot and cocaine) and the harsh penalties often imposed on users.”
Suppose Barack Obama (or Bill Clinton or George Bush) had admitted, say, to committing armed robbery – or even to picking pockets – while in college. Whether convicted or not for such crimes, is it conceivable that the electorate would dismiss these past offenses as being nothing more than understandable youthful antics and conclude that he is, at bottom, a decent-enough chap worthy of the White House? Of course not.
So why does government continue to waste vast quantities of resources hunting down and punishing people for drug use – actions that most of us obviously regard as being not especially heinous or harmful to society?